Did you know that 17 trees have to be cut down to make 1 ton of paper? This means over 2 million trees are cut down every day just to meet the world’s requirement of paper.
Paper in fact is one of the leading causes of deforestation on earth.
Is there a solution?
Yes. Handmade paper. Or the traditional style of paper making that was in use for centuries until wood pulp began being used for making paper in the 19th century.
What is Handmade Paper?
Handmade paper or to be more specific, recycled handmade paper is paper that is made from waste products, most often discarded cotton rag. It is simple to make at home, and for this reason, is used in a lot of crafts products.
In fact before the advent of large-scale industrial paper making, nearly all paper was made with handmade techniques using some combination of cotton rags and other waste products.
The earliest known paper-making technique is attributed to China in the 3rd century, where cotton rag, hemp waste, and bark of the mulberry tree were squashed together into a slurry to make paper.
By the 8th century CE, papermaking had spread from China to the Arab world, and from there to Europe. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century led to an explosion in the demand for paper, and millions of sheets of paper were now being produced annually in Europe itself.
The technique used for making paper in Europe differed from the Chinese in that it used very little or no tree bark at all. Cotton rag provided the primary raw material, with some hemp and flax added for additional durability. This raw material was mixed with water and beaten either by hand or with the help of water powered mills. The water was then drained from this slurry, and it was pressed to produce sheets of paper.
In all this process, no trees were cut, and no chemicals were used to give the paper any extra whiteness. This was natural paper, with a natural yellow tint to it. It was an essential requirement of medieval society that things written on paper last several generations, as this was the only technique they possessed for storing all their knowledge, all their records, and all their histories. This natural, handmade paper was thus built to last. This is the reason why we still have so many medieval manuscripts preserved in good condition.
With time, the art of making paper by hand had become an art form, and Italian hand-made paper makers such as those from Fabriano were prized for their skill in making the finest handmade paper from cotton and linen rag.
The Fourdrinier Machine and the Arrival of Wood-based Paper
This was how things stood until the close of the 18th century, when, one fine day in 1799, a Frenchman named Louis Nicolas Roberts, filed a patent for a new machine that could make paper without the need for an artisan to continuously use their hands. He took it to the famous stationers, Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier of London, who invested their capital in the development of this new paper-making machine.
One feature of this new machine was that it produced better quality paper when wood pulp, instead of cotton rag was used as the primary raw material. This wood-based paper was cheaper and faster to make. Unfortunately, it was also faster to deteriorate. So paper no longer lasted centuries.
To make this paper look white, manufacturers also started bleaching it, so that it lost its natural brown color. This however reduces the life of the paper and causes it to deteriorate even faster.
By the end of the 19th century, wood-based, acidified paper had almost completely replaced cotton rag based handmade paper.
Besides producing lower quality paper, this also meant the large scale destruction of forests as more and more trees began to be felled to meet the increasing global demand for paper.
In short, a global ecological catastrophe, the loss of a centuries-old art, and inferior quality paper were the result.
A Return to Handmade Paper
Fortunately, in the 21st century, several artisans are trying to create awareness about a return to handmade paper.
For instance, this beautiful handcrafted leather journal with handmade, deckle-edged paper by Daachi is a classic case in point.
Designed with a vintage aesthetic, the 150 GSM thick paper used in this journal is handmade using cotton rag and is 100% acid-free. This means that no trees were harmed in the making of this journal, and you be sure that this paper is going to last ages. Since it is acid-free, it has the natural brown color of acid-free, deckle-edged paper. A wrap-around key completes the timeless look of this vintage journal.
So go ahead, and show your support for this dying craft of handmade paper. In the process, you also get to save a few trees. This is our heritage, and it is up to us to keep it alive.